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THE DARK AGES                          123

Charles's example on Alfred at the end of the century.   When
Alfred came to the throne in 871 he found himself confronted
with the same problem as Charles had had to face in Frankland,
and he dealt with it in almost exactly the same way.   Except in
Mercia, learning had nearly vanished from England in conse-
quence of the Danish invasions ; or so at least Alfred thought.
" So general was the decay of learning in England," says Alfred
with some degree of exaggeration, " that there were very few on
this side of the Humber who could understand their services in
English or translate a letter from Latin into English;   and I
believe that there were not many beyond the Humber who could
do so."*  Like Charles, whose proclamations are re-echoed in the
Preface of one of his translations, Alfred began his reforms by
encouraging education in the Church; and, if we are to believe
the romancing pseudo-Asser who wrote Alfred's Life a century
later, he expended an eighth of his income in the maintenance of
a Palace School, which was attended by many boys of noble birth
and even by boys of humbler rank.   But his aim throughout was
the uplifting of the whole people.   He desired " that all the free-
born English youths who are rich enough to devote themselves to
learning should do so, so long as they are not fit for any other
occupation, until such time as they can read English well; and
further that those should afterwards learn Latin who wish to
continue their studies and rise to a higher rank."f  To this, his
chief personal contribution was the translation from Latin into
English of some of the best books of the time: Gregory's Pastoral
Care, Boethius's Consolations of Philosophy, Orosius's Universal
History of the World, Bede's Ecclesiastical History.   How much
more he actually did we do not know.  Legend connects his name
with the foundation of Oxford University;   but that is pure
romance.   His real glory is that by precept and example he
brought a new life into English learning, and so prepared the way
for the renaissance which manifested itself in the rise of the
English universities two hundred years after his day,

* Leach, Educational Charters t p. 23.                f Leach, p. 25,